This article was written and produced in partnership with Allianz Global Assistance.
There’s no doubt that travel is back! According to Reuters, “Between Nov. 18 and Sunday (Nov. 27), airlines carried 22.2 million U.S. passengers compared with 23.5 million in the same period in 2019, down by about 5.5%.”
Keep in mind that although the airlines were down by about 5.5%, they’re only flying 87%-93% of the number of seats they were using in 2019 since they’re so understaffed. This translates to flights going out full and because demand is outpacing supply, prices are ridiculously high. So, if you haven’t booked your Christmas flights yet, you better get cracking!
Here are the best of my holiday travel tips, including information on booking tickets, getting the best deals, navigating the crowds and generally, having a smooth travel experience.
1 How to find cheap holiday flights
If you haven’t purchased your airplane tickets, what are you thinking? If you subscribe to my daily travel tip newsletter, then you know that I was advising people back in the summer to buy their tickets. Heck, I bought mine in March for just 6,000 miles each way between Los Angeles and Toronto on American Airlines.
But of course, my son’s school informed us last week that there’s a surprise Christmas concert at exactly the same time our flight is scheduled, so I had to scramble to buy new tickets. Yeah, I know, the things parents do for their children.
I followed my own advice to find cheap tickets. The most important thing at this late stage is to be flexible with the dates/times and be sure to set a fare alert, even after you purchased your tickets. That’s because these days, most airlines don’t charge change fees as long as don’t buy Basic Economy tickets or fly ultra lowfare carriers (always read the fine print.) That way, you can cancel your flight and rebook if you find a cheaper flight (highly unlikely) or if someone in the family gets sick (highly likely) so if you need to cancel, at least you won’t lose the money. You just need to apply it to another ticket on the same airline within a year of purchase.
RELATED: Flight Delayed or Canceled? Here’s What You Need to Do
2 Use a travel agent
I made my career thanks to the internet but if you’re traveling over the holidays and don’t have top tier elite status on the airline you’re flying, then I would find a reputable travel agent and have them book your tickets (ask your friends who they use). That’s because if there’s a snowstorm, massive volcano eruption, an airline has an IT meltdown or a strike, then you don’t want to spend hours trying to get on the next available flight. It’s well worth spending $25-$50 per ticket to have a good travel agent do the dirty work if you-know-what hits the fan.
3 Give yourself extra, extra time
Speaking of getting on the next available flight … If you miss your flight because you woke up late, got stuck in traffic, your Uber didn’t show up or you couldn’t find airport parking, you need to realize you could be stuck for days and be on the hook for some major costs. It’s critical you give yourself enough time because if you miss your flight, good luck getting on the next flight because as I said above, flights are going out full. Leave extra early or be prepared to purchase new tickets.
4 Have a back-up plan
If you absolutely cannot afford to get stuck, then buy a refundable back-up ticket on another airline, connecting in a different region of the country (in case there’s bad weather) for a few hours after your original flight. That way, if your original flight gets cancelled or you get stuck in traffic, you aren’t totally screwed. Just make sure to cancel the flight you’re not taking before the cut-off time (usually before departure time). Here are some more tips about this nuclear travel hack.
5 Get travel insurance
Full disclosure: This article is created in partnership with Allianz Global Assistance but even if it wasn’t, I would recommend buying travel insurance since it gives travelers great peace of mind. Just make sure you read your policy’s fine print and double check the coverage you get from your credit card company.
6 Pay with a credit card
Regardless of whether you’re buying a domestic one-way flight or an African safari package, always protect your purchases by using a credit card and not a debit card. With a credit card, you’re protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Per Cornell Law, “The Act requires creditors to give consumers 60 days to challenge certain disputed charges over $50 such as wrong amounts, inaccurate statements, undelivered or unacceptable goods, and transactions by unauthorized users.” With a debit card, you’re out of luck.
If you haven’t purchased your ticket yet, then don’t just look at economy fares. Since there are not a lot of business travelers flying over the holidays, you can sometimes find much cheaper first-class fares. There are a lot of factors involved but always doublecheck and keep in mind that it could be cheaper or just a little bit more, especially when you factor in all the airline’s add-ons like checked baggage, assigned seats, food/drink, etc.
If you’ve already purchased your seats, then check to see if you can snag an upgrade for cheap. With packed planes, COVID and other viruses, now is the time to splurge to lessen your chances of catching something.
8 How to get the best seat
If you can’t fly first class, then at least aim for getting the best seat in economy (usually the exit row or bulkhead). First, consult SeatGuru.com for the best seat on your type of aircraft, then sign up to ExpertFlyer so they can monitor your desired seats so you don’t have to keep checking yourself. You can choose a specific seat, like an exit row aisle or a type like any window or aisle. When one opens up, you will be notified. Seats can open up anytime but typically start five days to 24 hours before departure and lasts all the way right up to boarding. This is when airlines start upgrading their frequent fliers who almost always have the best economy seats already pre-reserved. So, when they get lucky, you can too (if you’re quick).
9 Bring an air purifier to ensure clean air
The air on planes is filtered through HEPA filters so you should be fine unless your surrounding seatmates have COVID. If you want to ensure you have even clean air while in the air or on the ground, use this Wynd air purifier. I bring it on all of my trips and use it in the airline lounge, on the airplane, in the car service (when it’s raining and we have to close the windows), at my hotel and inside restaurants. You may get a mixed bag of looks from people. Some will look at you like you’re crazy (like my brother did) and others will be jealous.
10 Be extra nice
If you’re a regular reader, then you know that my number one travel tip is to always be genuinely nice to everyone but especially to gate agents and flight attendants since they can make or break your trip. Remember, the airport and airline staff most likely don’t want to be working over the holidays but have to so be extra nice; they would much rather be home with their families than listen to you whine. As you know, agents and flight attendants already had a difficult job pre-pandemic and now they’ve been putting up with a whole lot of crazy. I always make sure to greet them with a smile and almost always bring them a box or bag of chocolates.
This is going to be a memorable holiday for many since it might be the first Christmas in a while that many loved ones are gathering together. I know it will be for my family and I hope these travel tips help you travel as safely and smoothly as possible this holiday season.
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Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.